I mentioned what is probably my greatest fear in my last post: I am really scared to let people down.
But, of course, I do let others down all the time. So I am coming to terms with that fear, coming to know my weakness, my need to grow in humility, and my need for Christ’s mercy. It’s a blast.
But there are certain areas where that fear still pervades.
My wife loves to watch “Say Yes to the Dress” and other wedding and bridal shows, and often I have the distinct pleasure to be in the room while she’s watching them. Many of the couples in these shows write their own vows, and I am always amazed at how flat they fall in comparison with the Catholic vows. I think ours are so beautiful:
“I have come here freely and without reservation to give myself to this person in marriage. We will honor each other as man and wife for the rest of our lives. We will accept children lovingly from God, and bring them up according to the law of Christ and his Church.
I take you to be my spouse. I promise to be true to you in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. I will love you and honor you all the days of my life.
Take this ring as a sign of my love and fidelity. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”
Simple. Direct. Specific. Terrifying.
I had a moment of panic one night while we were still engaged after thinking through those vows. I remember it clearly: I was house-sitting for my friend’s parents, sitting on their back deck looking up at the stars. I had just had a fight with my then-fiance-now-wife over something completely stupid. While sitting out there, the fear hit.
Now, this wasn’t a moment like you see in the movies, where the guy thinks “I’m only going to sleep with one woman for the rest of my life!”; I was still excited about thinking “I get to sleep with a woman for the rest of my life!”
No, my thought was, “All the days of my life? All of them? How can I do that every day for the rest of my life? We can’t even decide on our wedding guest list; how can I really love this person all of my days?”
And, of course, I haven’t.
There are very few things I do every day of my life. I sleep. I eat. I go potty. But other than that, the rest is a crap-shoot (pun intended). I definitely had never loved or honored anyone every day. Still haven’t.
The thought that I could fail my wife or my daughter continues to scare me, mostly because I am very aware of the little failures I’ve already had. As I often tell my students, no one grows up thinking “I want to be a deadbeat dad” or “I hope I can abandon my family, at least emotionally, when they need me most”. These things happen gradually, in the small moments. Men aren’t born bad dads. They aren’t forced to be bad husbands. They become them gradually, choosing themselves over their families one drink or television show or second look at a time.
That could happen to me.
As St. Augustine says, there is no sin I am not capable of committing. I am not out of the woods. None of us are. Whatever our vocation is, the choice is still there. We can utterly fail if we want to. We can give up completely. We can do whatever we want, have whatever we want, and if what we want is ourselves and our own selfish desires, then there’s nothing stopping us from having them. As Jack Johnson puts it, “If we want hell, then hell’s what we’ll have.”
Peace returned to me a few days after that night on the deck when I realized that I wasn’t the one who needed to love her. As a matter of fact, it wasn’t my love she wanted in the first place.
It’s the love of Christ.
He loves her through me. All I need to do is get out of the way, move aside, clear my heart of everything so that He can fill the vacuum, so that He can spill out of me when I speak and seep out of me when I touch and take others in when I listen.
All I have to do is empty myself. All I have to do is die, so that He can live in me.
Of course, that’s a daily, life-long task. It’s not over, nor will it be until I actually die. But it’s one I’m working on. It’s one I’m trying.
And not only is it better for my wife that I stop trying so hard to be everything she needs, but it’s better for me, too. But that’s a topic for another post…